Myths, Palinist Trumpismo, and the Breakdown of ‘Suburban’ Culture(s)

Again, it’s worth noting that the authoritarian impulse is not something Donald Trump spun out of whole cloth (boldface added):

While people have described Palin as engaging in identity politics, that sells identity politics short. Palin along with the proto-movement surrounding her–Palinism–practices what could be call ‘politics of the blood.’ It’s derived from Giovanni Gentile’s description of fascism: “We think with our blood.” In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.

Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?

In this way, symbols and short phrases are the goal, not a means (although others, such as corporations and lobbyists, are willing to co-opt the emotions these symbols generate to further their own agendas)….

But that romanticism is at the heart of Palinism. It’s not a forward-looking utopianism, but a desire to return to a mythical, halcyon America that was Christian, low-tax, small government, and had less racial and ethnic discord (the latter is the most absurd, but, if you were white, there weren’t racial problems: you were white–no problems!). This vision has not existed for decades, if at all, but it is a predictable reaction to the loss of primus inter pares status of Christian whites; they are no longer the default setting.

What’s potentially dangerous about Palinism is that it is not the usual form of ‘identity politics.’ Even in its crudest, bluntest form–or when policies influenced by identity politics are implemented poorly–identity politics are ultimately about inclusion: a group believes it has been excluded or marginalized and wants to be included into the mainstream. What makes Palinism worrisome, and why I think it can be labelled ‘para [or proto]-fascist’ is that it is marginalist. For ‘real Americans’ to take back ‘their’ country–and note the phrase take back–they, by definition, are taking it back from an Other, whether that Other be a religious minority, racial minority, or some other group.

Which brings us to this description of delusion (boldface added):

In a new poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on Tuesday, a whopping 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. And an even bigger share of Americans — 53 percent — told pollsters American culture and “way of life” have mostly changed for the worse since 1950.

Half of white Americans — including 60 percent of the white working class — told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of black Americans agreed. White Americans feel put-upon and mistreated — and large shares of non-white Americans do not seem to have any knowledge of the challenges that white Americans say they face….

But the sheer size of the racial/ethnic gap concerning perceived discrimination against white Americans is particularly interesting because there is very little in the way of objective evidence of this discrimination and the disadvantage that typically follows. On just about every measure of social or economic well-being, white Americans fare better than any other group….

White Americans are, as a group, born healthier and live longer and get better health care, jobs, education and housing in the years in between. Yet half of white Americans believe that discrimination against them is as big a problem in their lives as it is for those of people of color. But there’s just no evidence to back that up

A full 60 percent of black Americans and 54 percent of Latinos told PRRI researchers that American culture has mostly changed for the better since the 1950s. In contrast, only 42 percent of white Americans agreed. In fact, 57 percent of white Americans told pollsters that the American way of life has mostly changed for the worse over the past 60 years.

Yes, nearly 60 percent of white Americans believe that life in America before the advent of the cassette tape, the ATM, IVF, the hand-held calculator and the bar code was better than it is today. Apparently life was very good for these Americans, when segregated public facilities were a legal requirement in the South and Southeast and a social norm in many other places. Most people of color could not obtain credit or a loan from most “mainstream” banks. Most women of all races and ethnicities could not do so either. This was a vastly different America, one where life was not at all easy for a whole lot of people. Still, this is the America for which apparently many white Americans long

To believe the things highlighted in the PRRI poll, one either has to be tragically misinformed, unwilling to accept widely available facts or utterly unconcerned with the conditions that shape many Americans’ lives.

Erik Loomis comments (boldface mine):

This is the base of the Trump voter and rise of proto-fascism in the United States in the last few years. White people frankly want a return to their romanticized vision of the white dominant past in ways that would not look unfamiliar to supporters of Hitler and Mussolini. Race has always been a zero-sum game for many American whites and periodically large numbers of whites enter into a period of full-fledged racial hysteria, even if to the rational community who can look at any number of metrics, this makes no sense. I will however say that the numbers of the white working class are particularly important because the economic insecurity of an outsourced and automated economy, the effects of which are swept under the rug by the many proponents of unrestricted globalization, are very real. I have said for a long time that if you want a stable society you have to have good paying jobs. Without those jobs, racial and religious prejudice becomes even more powerful than it usually is. That is part of what we are seeing in this recent rise of proto-fascism.

While I’ve snarked about degeneratesuburban‘ culture, we are witnessing the breakdown of various white cultures, a breakdown stemming from massive economic dislocation, on a scale comparable to that of the Great Migration. We need to fix that, or else this latest bigot eruption could turn really ugly.

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1 Response to Myths, Palinist Trumpismo, and the Breakdown of ‘Suburban’ Culture(s)

  1. Galaxian says:

    Which brings up limitations inherent in research on social variables: For instance, what do whites think of when they encounter the word “discrimination” in a questionnaire? Their view of the issue isn’t driven by aggregate statistics on measures of well-being collected for the various groups, but by the fact that all legislation on race has been in the nature of specific protections for specific groups, and by the perception that the granting of more concessions has never mollified angry minority advocates but led to more demands instead. Whites answering a survey note that they cannot file a race discrimination claim if turned down for a job, rather than whether such inability to file actually affects their overall job prospects. They resent being labeled by the term “white privilege” when a significant minority of whites aren’t sharing in the nation’s overall prosperity. They suspect the multiculturalist camp of harboring an unfriendly agenda, viewing its ideology as dominated by historical grievances that portray whites, especially white men, as responsible en bloc for the world’s injustices past and present.

    Although Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are obvious buffoons, these two number among the few who have been willing to validate white concerns and fears other opinion-makers dismiss out of hand. One interesting longitudinal study that hasn’t been done would look at the current attitudes of whites who had identified themselves back in the 1960s as progressive on race issues. I can’t prove it, but I would bet their sympathy for minorities has declined over the interval in at least many cases. Few whites really want to return to the days of segregation. At the same time, they do not enjoy being stomped on in the rhetoric of official media, fearing that policy could follow suit and move to deprive them of their negotiating positions. While perhaps unlikely to come true, such a fear nonetheless has some grounding in reality. A majority of the nation’s intellectuals frankly don’t like Western culture.

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